On this exciting introduction to Cuba, we explore the captivating capital of Havana and wander through the twisting alleyways of colonial Trinidad. Throughout the tour, we will be staying in Casas Particulares, a local term for homestay, which gives us a unique opportunity to experience local hospitality. Often full of history, family photos and memorabila, these casas give us a deeper insight into Cuban life. Along the way, we absorb the country's lively culture by learning salsa dancing and how to make Cuban cocktails. We also discover Cuba's spectacular natural beauty, taking in its pristine beaches, unspoilt forests and the dramatic landscape of Vinales. Learning about Cuba's fascinating history, we visit Che Guevara's Mausoleum and the infamous Bay of Pigs.
Now is undoubtedly a fantastic time to visit Cuba to see and experience the island. Visiting Cuba is like stepping back in time as little has changed over the past 50 years. To fully enjoy the Cuban experience you should travel with a willingness to expect the unexpected and, above all, an adventurous spirit. In our opinion go now and experience this unique destination before it changes.
Havana - Experience the faded colonial splendour and vibrancy of Cuba's capital
Casas Particulares - Stay in locally-owned and run private homestays throughout your trip
Vinales Valley - Admire steep limestone 'mogotes' rising from the valley floor
Trinidad - Enjoy the laidback atmosphere of this colonial town. Dance at the Casa de la Musica or sip a rum cocktail under the stars
Beaches - Relax on white-sand beaches around Trinidad, or take a boat trip to pretty Cayo Blanco
Che Guevara's Mausoleum - Visit the memorial to Cuba's national hero
Why Book this Tour
This short tour covers most of Western Cuba's highlights and is designed for those who want to discover one of the most unique countries in the world. You will stay in locally-owned and run private homestays throughout. Staying with local families and experiencing the Cuban way of life will be a highlight of the tour. This tour also includes a salsa dancing class and a lesson on how to make Cuba's famous cocktails.
- North America
- Santiago De Cuba
- Topes de Collantes
- Santa Clara
- Central America
- Small Group
Day 1: Join tour in Havana
We arrive in Havana and journey to our centrally located 'casa particular', or local guesthouse. On arrival to the main 'reception' casa in Havana (as detailed in the Joining Instructions), you will be met by the host and shown to your room in one of the other casas located nearby. Each casa can only accommodate a handful of guests, giving you a great opportunity to immerse yourself in the local culture.
Havana is a fascinating city. In 'Old Havana' Spanish grand colonial buildings rub shoulders with those of glorious art deco style, as the ubiquitous old American cars and taxis cruise past. After years of neglect some of these magnificent buildings are being restored, and it is not hard to imagine back to Havana's glamorous heyday when it was a popular haunt of the rich and famous. One of the first to be restored was the impressive art deco style Bacardi Building. Today Havana has something for everyone including museums, shopping and street cafes. At night the city's legendary music and cocktails bars come into their own.
Day 2: Tour of Havana's highlights, free afternoon
Today, we explore modern-day Havana, with its mixture of restored and crumbling architectural marvels. Walking through the Vieja (old) district, we will discover the baroque cathedral, beautiful neoclassical buildings and the Plaza de Armas (main square). On our travels, we will doubtless see many brightly-painted vintage cars - the result of legislation enforced until 2011 ruling that only cars built before the 1959 revolution could be sold. We may also notice the lack of advertising - nothing but political exhortations are allowed. Passing by the famous Capitolio building, modelled on the White House, we are likely to see kids playing the hugely popular game of baseball in its grounds.
During your free afternoon, you may choose to visit the fascinating Museum of the Revolution, housed in the impressive former Presidential Palace. The City Museum is also worth a visit, exhibiting art and historical artefacts in rooms preserved with their original Colonial decoration. In the late afternoon, once the freshening cool breeze blows in from the Caribbean, you may be tempted to enjoy a lively sunset stroll along the Malecon. Alternatively, you may prefer to visit the famous cigar factory.
Later this afternoon, we will enjoy a cocktail making class where we can learn to make some of Cuba's famous drinks including mojitos and pina coladas followed by a salsa dancing class where you can learn some basic steps.
This evening, we have the option to sample some of the capital's famous nightlife. El Floridita is as celebrated for its daiquiris as it is for having been a favourite hangout for Ernest Hemingway. Likewise, the Hotel Ambos Mundos is another Hemingway landmark where the 1954 Nobel Prize winner and author of 'For Whom the Bell Tolls' lived for several years. Its roof terrace serves up exceptional mojitos - the traditional Cuban cocktail.
Day 3: Full day trip to the picturesque Vinales countryside
After travelling a couple of hours west, we reach what is arguably the most picturesque part of Cuba - the Vinales region. Here, surreal mountains jut out of the landscape, formed by the erosion of limestone over millions of years. These 'mogotes' translate as 'haystacks' - a good word for them considering their steep sides and rounded, jungly tops. Around them, the iron-rich, red soil creates a patchwork of fields growing some of the best tobacco in the world - the raw material for Cuba's celebrated cigars.
Before our return to Havana for the night, we have the option of a two-hour trek through the valleys of this remarkable landscape to the village of El Palmarito. Mogotes tower above us as we pass through tobacco fields and past drying barns.
Day 4: Drive to Trinidad via the Bay of Pigs Museum
Today, we head east across Cuba, driving through giant citrus and sugar plantations and out on to the Zapata Peninsula. Our journey is broken up with a wonderful swimming opportunity in a 'cenote' (pool) where the ceiling of an underground river has collapsed. We plan to arrive in Playa Giron by mid-afternoon. Here we will visit the museum dedicated to the infamous 'Bay of Pigs' invasion - a US-supported attack by Cuban exiles which failed to overthrow the Communist regime in 1961.
Our journey continues, past the wooded Escambray Mountains and hugging the coastline, with views over the sparkling turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea. By early evening, we will arrive at our hotel just outside the beautiful Spanish colonial town of Trinidad - our base for the next three nights.
Day 5: In Trinidad; tour of this pretty colonial town
This morning, we wander through the cobbled streets of the old centre of Trinidad, discovering its fine palaces, churches and cafes. A paradise for photographers, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is a perfectly preserved colonial settlement unlike any other. In the early 19th century, French settlers fleeing a slave revolt in Haiti, landed here and started to grow sugar cane in the Valle de Los Ingenios. This crop generated considerable wealth and consequently the town had to be regularly defended from pirates.
Subject to opening hours, we will visit a local museum before some free time where you may wish to wander for longer through Trinidad's streets to soak up more of the unique atmosphere. This evening you can may wish to practice some of those new salsa steps at the open-air Casa de la Musica, just off the main square.
Day 6: Free day; optional trip to Topes or boat trip to Cayo Las Iguanas
Today is free for you to enjoy more of Cuba's beautiful landscapes and fascinating culture at your own pace. You may wish to take the short train journey out to the Sugar Mills Valley to Manaca Iznaga where you will have the opportunity to visit the Hacienda of the Family Iznaga, one of the richest in Trinidad during Colonial Times. Another option is to head into the Escambray Mountains to the Topes de Collantes Nature Reserve Park. With its unspoilt forests and water-eroded valleys, this area is famous for its many endemic species of flora and fauna. There are several different options involving short walks through the coffee growing area and rainforest. Most trips will drive up to some incredible viewpoints and several of the options offer an opportunity of a refreshing swim in one of its waterfalls finished off with a traditional lunch in one of the local haciendas. Your leader will run through these different options with you.
Alternatively, you may wish to visit the deserted island of Cayo Las Iguanas. Here you can eat fresh paella, relax on the beach and snorkel in the coral wilderness. Snorkelling equipment is not always available, so keen snorkelers might prefer to bring their own.
Day 7: Return to Havana via Santa Clara
Today we bid farewell to Trinidad and make our way back to Havana, via Santa Clara. This pleasant university town was originally a prosperous agricultural area, well-placed on the island's trading route. Now, it is most famous as the site of the last battle of the Revolution, in which Che Guevara's troops took the city, causing the Cuban dictator, Batista, to flee into exile.
After visiting the Tren Blindado Memorial commemorating this historic event, we move on to Che's Mausoleum. Guevara was buried here with full military honours in 1997 after his exhumed remains were discovered in Bolivia and returned to Cuba. A flame lit by Fidel Castro burns eternally to honour a national hero who played a key role in Cuba's revolution and whose image is routinely displayed throughout the country. We will also visit the museum dedicated to Guevara's life, containing many interesting letters and artefacts.
This evening, we return to Havana to enjoy a final dinner and probably a dance.
Day 8: Tour ends Havana
Our tour ends in Havana after breakfast.
Touring with Explore
Explore have been creating award-winning adventures for over 35 years and are experts when it comes to unique travel experiences.
Their small group adventure holidays have been running since 1981 and today, Explore are one of the most trusted travel companies in the UK with over 600 trips to more than 130 countries. At Explore, they are passionate about travel and have developed a wide range of unique activities and experiences which gives their customers an unforgettable adventure with a team of award-winning Explore leaders .
With Explore, you'll get to see your destination from a whole new perspective that takes you away from the typical well-trodden tourist track. You'll have the chance to meet, dine and stay with local people, rest in authentic accommodation with other like-minded explorers and travel to must-see destinations with a unique Explore twist.
From family trips to holidays for solo travellers; cycling tours to wildlife safaris; trekking on mountains or exploring miles of scenic coastline; self-guided holidays or small group trips; there is something for every kind of traveller with Explore. They will provide their expert knowledge, exciting itineraries and outstanding service as part of their sustainable travel experiences which take you under the skin of the country you're visiting for the adventure of a lifetime.